As the 2015 Strategic Issues Panel began to listen to speaker presentations about legislative accountability, a few issues became clear. First, legislatures exist in a highly polarized environment. Several speakers asserted that politics today are the most polarized since the Civil War. Secondly, that changes in campaign finance, redistricting and primaries have led to the perception among voters that their vote is not effective in holding their legislature accountable.
With voter frustration mounting, and polarization creating frequent gridlock, finger-pointing and looming government shut-downs, the panel was keenly aware of the growing problem of cynicism among citizens. As polls show, the American people have lost faith in their legislative institutions - both Congress and at the state level - to address the demands of an increasingly complex world.
No government “by the people” can flourish without faith in the governing process. Our democratic system relies on a working connection between the public and their representatives to function. Key to the relationship between legislatures and the people is trust.
When citizens trust their legislature, they are more willing to provide it the authority, support, and resources to do its job effectively. Citizens who trust the government are also more likely to support programs intended to benefit the common good – beyond their own individual interests – and to accommodate diverse points of view. When constituents have faith in the process, they invest in legislators the power and confidence to pursue policies that benefit the state or nation as a whole, both in the near- and long-term, and to make decisions on public concerns without continually seeking popular approval.
As citizen trust wanes, however, citizens withdraw their support, which in turn undermines the ability of legislatures to perform well. When citizens perceive poor performance by the legislature, their trust is further eroded, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.
In the process of examining these issues, the panel sought to identify a framework for legislative accountability, one that could be applied at any level - national, state or local.
You can read the report by following the link below. You can also join the conversation about legislative accountability on our Facebook page.